Superspy – wonderful, elaborate espionage tales

Published On May 26, 2010 | By Richard Bruton | Comics, Reviews

Super Spy and Super Spy: The Lost Dossiers

by Matt Kindt

Top Shelf Productions

Superspy paints an intricate, intimate portrait of life as a spy during World War II, concentrating on both the technical details of the spying trade and the emotional impact that such a life of lies and deceits, fear and mistrust had on the men and women involved.

It’s a shadowy and secretive world where every action is carefully thought out, where nothing is as it seems and every moment could lead to a lonely, unheralded death. There’s but a hint of James Bond style glamour here and that’s soon removed amidst the blood, lies and continual fear we see throughout the book.

And whilst the stories in Superspy are enthralling, they’re not the most obviously impressive thing about Superspy. It’s the structure that’s the real draw here – the book is composed of 37 individual “dossiers”, each telling of a moment in time, each one an individual tale of spying, and each one connected to another. But the “dossiers” are presented non-sequentially, each small tale building upon what has gone before, and equally reflecting a moment later in the book – just like this one:

(The Whisp – a radio serial with the code words emphasised – Retrieve secret codebook. Find him. Midnight. Third Water Street. All becomes clear further on in Superspy. By Matt Kindt, published by Top Shelf.)

Kindt intends the stories to build, to echo, to trigger connections and to be mere fragments of a larger narrative. There’s a feeling as you read Superspy that everything may be important, every nuance, every word, may just be part of some code or key that proves important later on.

But although the formulist aspect of Superspy is impressive and original, it’s also a brilliant collection of tales, with Kindt examining espionage from an intensely personal and intimate viewpoint without losing any of the terrifying thrills or intrigue in something far more fantastical and escapist – like this moment pages after that first bit of artwork above….

(An assassin comes out of the shadows on the corner of 3rd and Water St, retrieving the codebook as instructed pages before in the code from the Whisp serial. Superspy is full of this glorious complex interweaving of actions, and all played out in glorious artwork that often bleeds (quite literally here) across the panel borders. By Matt KIndt, published by Top Shelf)

All of Kindt’s spies are regular people, finding themselves doing extraordinary things almost by accident rather than design, as espionage works it’s way into their everyday lives. Every contact with other people is filled with tension and paranoia, everyone is a potential threat, everyone is potentially as duplicitious as they are and the perpertual fear of exposure is all pervasive.

The spying in Superspy is dark, terrifying and paranoid and Kindt’s art reflects the dark tone of his subject, shadows are everywhere, the sketchy, rough artwork makes panels flow perfectly, his cartooning style ably conveying the emotional range required, all covered in a subtle, subdued duotone colour, with occasional panels or pages of bright full colour that jumps off the page in maps, cartoons and even a children’s book – all part of one carefully crafted espionage plan or other.

(A very personal moment, a desperate woman attempting to get her child to safety. But to do so she’ll have to keep spying. The code? That’s in the washing line pattern. From Superspy by Matt Kindt, published by Top Shelf.)

But as I was reading it, despite my enjoyment I found myself almost distracted by the craft and the formulist trickery. I found myself struggling at times to really engage with with the story and my interest wandered, even as I was admiring and enjoying the originality of the ideas and the emotional little tales. For me, the formulist aspects of Superspy is both it’s greatest achievement and it’s Achilles’ heel.

But despite this, Superspy is still an excellent graphic novel, particularly when subsequent reads allowed me to focus far more on the narative as the novelty of the structure wore off. Then I found it worked far better – all the dark intricacies of the story had chance to reveal themselves and the truly claustrophobic and intense emotional tale could reveal itself – the sheer cleverness of Superspy may be impressive, but once beyond that, there’s a wonderful graphic novel underneath; an intricate tale of dark suspense and very human emotion that is far more emotional and involved than the standard spy cliché.

(Kindt’s work in Superspy: The Lost Dossiers is full of extras, giving an indication of just the sheer amount of work that has been put into the work. From Superspy: The Lost Dossiers by Matt Kindt, published by Top Shelf)

The Lost Dossier on the other hand, takes the formalist elements just too far – if Superspy is the main feature then this is the supplement, the dvd extras if you like. Composed of annotations, deleted scenes, a couple of new stories and a series of diagrams and activity pages designed to reflect some of the wilder aspects of spy creativity – It riffs on the ideas and the formulism of the original, but just takes the playfulness and invention that step too far. The latter half of the book is made up of Kindt’s reference and prep work for Superspy. Whilst this personal insight into Superspy is excellent, complete with some gorgeous artwork, I can’t help but think it would be better served in future as extra “back-matter” in an expanded edition of Superspy. One for those who dissected every last element of Superspy I think.

One thing is certain though; Matt Kindt is a major talent, artistically quite brilliant and with an invention and playfulness in his craft that marks him out as one to watch. His latest book; Revolver, is due out from DC/Vertigo in July.

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About The Author

Richard Bruton
- Started in comics retail aged 16 at Nostalgia & Comics, Birmingham. Now located in Yorkshire, he's written for the Forbidden Planet International Blog since 2007. Specialising in UK Comics and All-Ages comics, Richard's day job in a primary school allowed him to build the best children's graphic novel library in the country.

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